An initiative to bring citizens, service providers, and government officials together to engage around issues in the education sector and to improve the quality of educational infrastructure and service delivery in Ba-Ziyd, Egypt.
Problems and Purpose
Within the education system in Egypt, the central government is responsible for the policies and financial allocations for local levels of education administration. This directly affects the funding allocations to school buildings and infrastructure for every governorate in Egypt. Rural areas are often disadvantaged, in that some villages have an insufficient number of schools relative to other villages. This is a major contributor to dropout rates, primarily of girls, reaching upwards of 15% in the Beni-Suef Governorate.
Ba-Ziyd, a rural village in the Beni Suef governorate, was suffering similarly poor levels of educational provision. According to a baseline survey by a Ba-Ziyd local community development association, student dropout rates - particularly girls - reached 14% in 2014. Geographic isolation, poor access to transportation, as well as lack of funding for school buildings were additional factors posing a challenge to the provision of quality education in this area.
In response, between 2013 and 2014, the Youth Association for Development and Environment (YADE) began the Social Accountability for Education Reform (SAER) initiative to increase citizen participation in the improvement of the education system through public hearings and a social accountability tool.
The provision of quality educational services depends on the participation of a large number of stakeholders, including local traditional leaders, civil society members, parents, teachers, policy makers, and school administration, as well as students and government officials. In rural areas, however, there is little engagement of community members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the subject of education. The relationships between stakeholders are therefore poor, leading to a general lack of awareness about governance and social accountability tools that could improve the quality of education.
Few community members are aware that they have a role to play alongside government officials to elevate the quality of education services and to monitor service provision within their communities. However, there is a growing number of civil society organizations - such as the Youth Association for Development and Environment - that are acting on their role as service providers, identifying shortcomings in the quality of government services. The Social Accountability for Education Reform represents one such initiative by a CSO.
Background History and Context
Since the 2011 Egyptian revolution, many development challenges continue to impact Egypt due to limited resources, a poverty rate that had increased to 26.3% by 2013, over-population, high illiteracy rates, and economic instability. All this results in decreased public spending in education. School buildings and infrastructure are often inadequate relative to the needs of students, especially in rural areas, because funding is often allocated to urban areas with greater population density. Insufficient communication and planning have resulted in some villages having a large number of schools while other villages have received no funding for renovations of existing schools.
Beni-Suef is one of the poorest governorates in Egypt. It has a high rate of population growth of 76% in rural areas, compared to 24% in urban areas In 2014, the illiteracy rate was 40%  and overcrowded schools had an average of 43 students per class.
Ba-Ziyd village is a rural area encompassing 11 hamlets with a total population of 6,300. The majority of the population engages in agricultural activities. People walk distances of up to six kilometers to the central village to access services such as health and education. Community members are largely disengaged from decision-making processes around public service delivery, as these occur in the central village. Citizens are thus limited in their input into how social services can address their needs, although there is one grassroots Community Development Association (CDA) in Ba-Ziyd that has direct relations with its community members and works to address community needs.
YADE first engaged in Ba-Ziyd as part of its participation in the Transparency and Accountability for Good Governance (TAG) project, implemented in Egypt by the Coady International Institute from 2012 to 2014. As part of its engagement in TAG, YADE applied learning and transferred newly-acquired skills by designing the Social Accountability for Education Reform (SAER) project in Beni Suef. The initiative aimed at using social accountability tools to increase civic participation and to also integrate CSOs, local government, and local media professionals from local newspaper, radio, and television in education reform in 10 communities, including Ba-Ziyd, between 2013 and 2014.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Youth Association for Development and Environment (YADE) is a national NGO working in community development since 1998 to improve the quality of life in marginalized areas of Egypt. It was funded by Civil Society Fund (CSF)-World Bank from 2013 to 2014 to implement the Social Accountability for Education Reform (SAER) project in cooperation with partners from local CSOs and CDAs.
Stakeholders engaged through SAER project in Beni Suef included volunteers from grassroots CDAs, local media actors, local government representatives from the Ministry of Education, members from Boards of Trustees (BOTs), and citizens. Members of community-based organizations and community leaders played an important role in this project. Their engagement provided community members with a platform to voice the issues surrounding education and to advocate for change; they also negotiated the citizens' points of view and influenced the process of public hearing meetings.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In Ba-Ziyd, YADE initiated the project in July 2013 with an initial meeting with representatives from target CDAs to introduce project activities and select the 20-member core team who would be responsible for implementing project activities. The target stakeholders and participants for the SAER project were:
- community development associations (CDAs);
- Boards of Trustees (BOT) from the schools;
- governorate and local government officials from the education sector; and,
- media professionals from local newspapers, television, and radio.
Each CDA was asked to nominate at least two volunteers to participate in the project. Together, the YADE and the CDAs determined selection criteria to guide the nomination of volunteers. Selection was based on:
- a commitment to a citizen engagement approach;
- a concern about problems in the education sector;
- being a resident of the target community who has a good reputation among its members;
- a demonstrated potential for leadership;
- the ability to form a community awareness team; and,
- having the basic skills to deliver trainings and to collect data.
Following the meeting, the YADE and CDAs interviewed and selected the volunteers from those nominated in each community. The CDA of Ba-Ziyd selected two volunteers: a teacher from the primary school in the community and a traditional leader.
Methods and Tools Used
YADE used several methods and tools to engage with stakeholders, government representatives, and members of the public throughout the initiative. Formal meetings were held between project organizers and participating CDAs to discuss strategies, give feedback, and build understanding and commitment. Professional consultants were hired to give training workshops to introduce the project's organizers on the use of community needs assessment and mapping, good governance and social accountability tools, public hearing skills and community dialogue, roles and responsibilities of local administration, and policy analysis.
After their training in engagement techniques and community capacity building, the primary method of public participation selected by the initiative's lead organizers was the Public Hearing. Public hearings provided an avenue for direct participation through a process whereby community stakeholders and participants are given the opportunity to express themselves in a transparent way. It opens a dialogue between decision-makers, civil society actors, and community members to interact on a given subject.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
In June 2012, two staff members from YADE attended a workshop held by Civil Society Fund for their grantees. The aim was to introduce and discuss social accountability approaches and tools, to exchange ideas and experiences between the participants from many countries, and to develop tools to be used in their own projects.
In July 2013, YADE held an initial meeting with the representatives and key bodies of 10 CDAs. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the project's goal and activities to the participants and to explore ways for engagement in the project activities. Other meeting objectives were to build mutual understanding of and commitment to the project parameters, and to collect participants’ recommendations for future ideas and plans for increasing the capacity of their volunteers, who would participate in the project implementation in their communities.
Professional consultants and experts in good governance and social accountability approaches were contracted to provide 90 training hours for the project core team and YADE staff. The training focused on community needs assessment and mapping, good governance and social accountability tools, public hearing skills and community dialogue, roles and responsibilities of local administration, and policy analysis.
By training the core team as trainers themselves, members were empowered to apply their learning around social accountability and education policies by delivering the same training (40 training days) with the 10 Community Support Teams based in the 10 target communities. In Ba-Ziyd, a Community Support Team of eight members was formed to address community needs around education services and increased citizen participation.
As a result, targeted stakeholders were equipped to engage with each other effectively through public hearings. CDA members and the Community Support Team expressed their ability to translate the knowledge and skills acquired on social accountability approaches into local initiatives that aimed to:
- collect the data about citizen’ satisfaction concerning education services; and,
- raise the community awareness about public hearings, as a tool to create space for dialogue between service providers and service users, and to find collaborative solutions to improve the quality of services at the local level.
The Community Support Team (CST) members participated in the following activities to achieve the initiative results:
Information and data collection campaign
In Ba-Ziyd, the CST (comprised of two women and six men) led a door-to-door campaign to raise the awareness of community members about social accountability. This campaign also aimed at equipping community members with tools to monitor government services and facilitate engagement with government officials. Finally, the campaign collected information and feedback from citizens concerning education services in the community. Findings from the data collected identified a number of issues.
In the primary school, this included:
- poor infrastructure due to the age of the building, with no budget allocated for renovation and maintenance of broken windows and cracked and chipped concrete stairs;
- inadequate resources such as desks and chairs;
- over-crowded classrooms (42 students per class) with insufficient numbers of teachers; and,
- poor school governance, including weak parent and community participation in the school’s Board of Trustees.
Likewise, in the preparatory school, issues included:
- poor physical accessibility;
- high dropout rates of girls, as they have to walk long distance to schools, posing safety and poverty barriers to access (especially for people with disabilities); and
- over-crowdedness leading to a separation of the student body into two shifts, with many having to return home in the evening.
Public hearing session
Based on this information, the Ba-Ziyd CST organized a public hearing with a goal to increase the accessibility to safe basic education. They invited stakeholders to sit on a panel for this public hearing; these stakeholder participants included governorate-level government officials responsible for school construction and administration, the Head of Education Administration at the district level, the BOT Chairman from the primary school, and the Primary School Manager.
The date was appointed at the end of June 2014 for the public hearing to take place at the primary school in Ba-Ziyd, a choice location because the local government officials trusted in the information the CST collected based on a good relationship with the school administration as well as increased citizen engagement around school issues.
Organizers informed the participants one week prior to the meeting and encouraged affected parents to attend to support the case. Various segments of the community participated in the public hearing, including traditional leaders, parents of affected students, people interested in education reform, teachers and some students.
The public hearing itself was relatively informal, as it did not require that both community and official representatives get time to speak. It rather consisted of a discussion of the issues – without a question and answer period – organized and facilitated by the CST leader. The facilitator introduced the public hearing as a tool for citizen engagement with official bodies responsible for service provision. He then introduced the panel and presented the information and data gathered. The facilitator asked participants to begin by clearly stating their name and present their points of view, offering testimony in light of the data presented. The affected parents began, followed by community leaders and primary school teachers. Panel members then responded and discussed every issue of concern, while the CST recorded the main points and outcomes.
In reacting to the data, participants talked about the problems at both primary and preparatory education levels (i.e., infrastructure, over-crowdedness, insufficient number or teachers, weak Boards of Trustees). As discussions evolved between the panel and the community members, the focus became the infrastructure issue, That is:
- the need to build a preparatory school to address parents’ concerns about high dropout rates among their children, especially girls; and,
- the poor infrastructure at the primary school, especially the cracked stairs.
The Ba-Ziyd public hearing was one of 10 held in each respective target community as part of the SAER project between 2013 and 2014.
Data dissemination through local media
The SAER project activities included raising local media practitioners’ awareness of good governance and social accountability standards in education issues and to facilitate engagement of local media with CSO participants and government officials working to promote social accountability. The CST facilitated a two-day workshop on social accountability for 22 media professionals including representatives from local newspapers and bloggers to ensure that media had access to appropriate information about social accountability tools—especially public hearings and were equipped to perform their function in support of education reform.
The media played a key supportive role in distributing the data collected in the awareness-raising campaigns in each community, in publishing the findings about problems in the education sector, and in broadcasting the outcomes of the public hearings. The issues and problems identified were publicized among the affected citizens and all stakeholders were involved through newspapers, blogs and Facebook. This public dissemination further contributed to holding government officials to respond to citizens’ demand that they participate in the public hearing and follow through on their outcomes.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The decisions made during and following the Ba-Ziyd public hearing led to a number of results, including the following:
Budget reallocations in line with greatest need
At the public hearing, community members explained that the land in Ba-Ziyd had been donated by community members and was allocated for the construction of the preparatory school. The problem was that the public budget had the funding earmarked for investments in the central village that year, as opposed to Ba-Ziyd. After the public hearing, the government official responsible for school buildings, who was part of the panel during the session, decided to give priority to Ba-Ziyd schools. The budget was reallocated in support of greater investment in Ba-Ziyd, to address the required renovation and maintenance at the primary school and to build a new preparatory school.
Improved educational infrastructure
A preparatory school was built in Ba-Ziyd and opened in the 2017–2018 academic year. Similarly, renovations were brought to the existing primary school, addressing many of the safety concerns raised by parents in public hearing session. The involvement of citizens through the SAER project was key to achieving these results. Hearing the complaints directly from community members prompted the Construction Administration Officer—the government officials responsible for the school building budget at the governorate level–to support the construction of a school in Ba-Ziyd. At the same time, CWA also expressed his appreciation for the public hearing, as it allowed him to understand the issues from the citizen's perspective.
Improved relationship between government and empowered citizens
Parents and community members realized that their participation in education governance is essential and can bring about change in the quality of education service. Also, relations improved between the community members and government officials, as service users felt greater satisfaction about the services and the government’s response to their needs. This contributed to increased collaborative behavior among citizens and government actors alike.
Increased citizen participation in governance
Community members, including the parents of students at the schools, have expressed a greater desire and intentions to be part of school governance, through increased engagement with Boards of Trustees.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Importance of an open platform for dialogue
In this instance, the public hearing was an effective method of engagement to get government to respond to community demands, as it connected citizens directly with decision makers and made their concerns and complaints known in a public forum.
Working with traditional leaders
Local traditional leaders were able to mobilize both community members and government officials and contribute to closing the gap between them. Their convening role helped to provide a safe space for marginalized groups, such as poor and illiterate people, to express themselves and to work collaboratively to resolve issues in the education sector. Further, it was important to get the right stakeholders on the public hearing panel. Through an analysis of power dynamics and relationships in the community, and in considering which government officials had authority over priority matters, organizers assembled a panel that was able to take swift action as a result of what they heard in the public hearing, ultimately addressing many of the issues in Ba-Ziyd.
Importance of data collection and evidence
Collecting data about the problems and service situation directly from service users through grassroots CDAs not only highlighted the service users' concerns and priorities, but it also provided the evidence required to persuade decision makers and ultimately to make informed decisions. The data collected also set a more objective basis for citizens’ observations, concerns and demands during the public hearing. Finally, this evidence base added greater legitimacy to citizens’ concerns, as the data represented the voices of community members who were absent at the public hearing.
Social accountability through public hearings
YADE and the grassroots CSOs participating in the initiative realized that they can play a key role in improving the quality of services by using social accountability mechanisms to hold the government officials to account, rather than providing the services themselves as short-term solutions. Working at the local level for social accountability can give marginalized groups a voice and empower them to participate in democracy at a larger scale.
Role of the facilitating organizations
YADE worked to build the capacity of the grassroots CSO members to increase their knowledge and skills around social accountability, policy analysis, and responsiveness to citizens. Also, to ensure they take ownership of the initiative, YADE engaged stakeholders throughout the process, and motivated the CST to play a lead role in implementing social accountability. Formal and informal training techniques, as well as knowledge platforms and meetings, were key in achieving this.
The CDAs also played an active role in building trust with community members and government officials, in designing data collection tools, and in implementing and facilitating the public hearing.
Role of the media engagement in social accountability
Local media played a vital role in aiding the CST by disseminating information about the issues and about the social accountability approach put forth to address them. They were important in gaining consideration from government officials. Finally, their participation in support of activities and in sharing outcomes prepared citizens to form opinions and participate effectively in social accountability activities.
Using different types of media such as local radio broadcasts, printed materials, and social media channels enabled various segments of the population to know about the issues and the initiative, and ultimately contributed to the effectiveness of the public hearings and education reforms that ensued.
 CAPMAS. (2015a). Statistical Yearbook – Education. Cairo: Author.
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 CAPMAS. (2017). 2016/2017 Statistical Yearbook. Population Estimates By Governorate (Urban/Rural). Cairo: Author.
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 Ministry Of Education. (2015). Statistical Yearbook 2014/2015. Educational Indicators. MoE.
 Castle, D., Rafaat, N., Zeidan, M., & Foroughi, B. (2017). Footsteps and insights on the road to learning transparency and accountability in good governance in Egypt. In W. No, A. Brennan, & D. Schugurensky (Ed.), By the people: Participatory democracy, civic engagement and citizenship education (pp. 43–51). Phoenix, AZ: Arizona State University. Available from https://spa.asu.edu/sites/default/files/2018-03/bythepeople_final_march1.pdf
Youth Association for Development and Environment (YADE) [Broken Link - see archived version https://web.archive.org/web/20170712212539/http://www.yade-egypt.org/] [Arabic]
This case was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University with the support of J. Landry & R. Garbary.